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Galatas 25 May
26th May

 

Once the airfield at Maleme had fallen to the Germans the main activity for the next couple of days came to centre around Galatas and Canea as 5th brigade fell back, and the Germans pushed east towards Canea and Suda Bay.
The link on the right is for a book by 'Sandy' Thomas who was injured during the battle at Galatas, evacuated to Greece by the Germans, he then managed to escape to Turkey.  He went on to become a Major General.

While the German Group West was in action around Maleme their Group Centre was to concentrate on the area of Galatas, Canea and Suda Bay.  Group Centre would be delivered in two waves; the first wave would attack the area of Canea and Galatas while the second wave was planned to attack Rethymnon in the afternoon then divert troops west to support the first wave in their attacks.  

The outline of the plan was for two detachments of the Assault Regiment from 1 Battalion to land by glider and take out the AA batteries on the Akrotiri peninsula (Captain Altmann) and south of Canea (Lieutenant Gentz).  Meanwhile parachutists of 3 Parachute Regiment (Colonel Heidrich) in four battalions (I, II & III plus the Parachute Engineer Battalion) were to land around Galatas.  I & II would land around 2 miles south of Galatas and would head east to Suda to link up with Altmann; III Battalion would land east and north-east of Galatas and attack Canea from the west.  The Engineer Battalion would land a mile south-west of I & II battalions, acting as rearguard to the others and taking local objectives.  

Landing with 3 Parachute Regiment would be the H.Q. for 7th Air Division (Lt. Col. Suessmann, also spelt Sussman in some accounts).  Airborne assaults using gliders are a risky business with the success of the landing obviously dependent on the gliders arriving at the right place, the men then being able to get out and assemble before coming under attack, and the disposition of the defenders being as briefed.  In the 'coup de main' assaults at Eben Emael and Pegasus Bridge the glider landings were very successful, those by Altmann and Gentz were less so.

Altmann's force did not land together but were dispersed, many were killed or injured very quickly and one of the AA positions that they had as an objective was in fact a dummy position.  Against stiff opposition from the Northumberland Hussars they held out in isolated groups for a couple of days until they surrendered through lack of supplies.  Gentz's group was not muck luckier, again they were dispersed but survivors did manage to get through to join 3 Parachute Regiment after overcoming one AA battery, but only 24 men made it out of over 90 who landed together.  The glider carrying the Divisional Commander, Suessmann, broke up soon after take-off, losing its wings, all on board were killed and the command of the operation now devolved on Colonel Heidrich.
The parachutists in the battalions of 3 Parachute Regiment also had a hard time, many were dropped in the wrong area.  The only real success came from Capt. von de Heydte of 1 Battalion who took the prison south of Galatas and moved eastwards to Perivolia and Mournies, collecting II Company of III Battalion en-route.  This put von de Heydte about 2 miles south of Canea.
In the Canea-Galatas sector Galatas became the focal point for the action but many units, attackers and defenders, were separated from their main groups and overwhelmed individually.  Kurt Heher was a war correspondent and in an article for 'Crete Eyewitnessed' he said "The capital of the island is being defended here at Galatas.  The decision for the possession of Suda Bay is being fought for here.  It is a battle foe the huge supply and equipping base set up by the British to support 20,000 men and their equipment for six months."  Von der Heydte expressed a similar sentiment; "The whole battle of Crete had in this area two points of real strategic importance - that was Hill 107 and Maleme, and the village of Galatas."

When Heidrich landed around 9a.m. on the 20th it did not take him long to appreciate that the situation was not going well.  If he was to succeed in his objective of taking Canea then he must first occupy the high ground around Galatas, ground held by New Zealand troops under Colonel Kippenberger.  Galatas was in the 10 Brigade front, with much of it defended by the Composite Battalion spread out over four hills; Red Hill, Ruin Hill, Wheat Hill and in the south, Pink Hill which saw most of the action.  

The position of the elements of the Composite Battalion on the 20th May.

[Map taken from Davin's Official History]

Pink Hill was defended by the Divisional Petrol Company.  As one might surmise from the unit name, these were not normal infantry, they were mainly drivers and technicians who had barely enough weapons to go one each.  The day was a hard one with a number of attacks, successfully fought off, but it was apparent to Colonel Kippenberger (commanding 10 Brigade) that Galatas prison was the point of concentration for the Germans, and a counter attack would be needed at some point.  To do this he needed more infantry.
At 7pm Kippenberger sent a message to Brigadier Puttick at Division;" ..... Pressure on my left has been increasing. .... Casualties abt 60 incl 4 off(icers) and are continuing steadily.  Rations & ammo alright water short. ... If no counter attack can be mounted to clear prison area where enemy are clearing landing field suggest that after dark I should withdraw to shorter line...... Please advise position and instruct.  Don't think this line would hold against serious attack tomorrow.  Have had to thin out beach defence."  So what of the counter attack?
Brigadier Inglis was of the same mind as Kippenberger, a counter attack was necessary.  Earlier, at around 11am Freyberg made the decision to release most of his reserve to Brigadier Puttick (O.C. NZ Division).  This meant that 18 & 19 Battalions of 4 Brigade (Inglis) came under the command of Puttick.  For Freyberg to do this, while there had as yet been no sea landings or drops on Rethymnon or Heraklion, must have meant that he intended them to be used in some way.  Unfortunately he did not say how, he left it to the discretion of the local commander, Puttick.  This lack of decisiveness would be criticized later, and was instrumental in the way events turned out.
By early afternoon Inglis could see that the main landings were at Maleme and Galatas, and he had heard that all was not going well for Andrew with 22 Battalion, he believed a counter attack was needed in the prison area and that then it should be pushed on to assist 5 Brigade at Maleme.  Puttick did not agree with the need for this counter attack.  he took the cautionary view that 18 & 19 Battalions may be needed to counter later threats, and did not have reports of problems at 5 Brigade.  When he did hear that Hargest was to assist Andrew, it was only to be with two companies, which did not seem to be a major problem.  Added to this was the lack of definitive direction from Freyberg on what the reserve he had released should be used for.  It was not until 17.30 that Puttick saw a need for some scale of counter attack.
A report had come in to say that the Germans were preparing a landing ground west of the prison, also referred to in Kippenberger's 19.00 message.  If this were true and if the Germans were successful then they could concentrate sufficient force to cut 5 Brigade from the rest of Freyberg's force.  Puttick decided on a battalion size attack (19 Battalion), assisted by light tanks under Lt. Farran.  The attack was to "clear prison area of the enemy".  This would have been a challenge for a battalion but as it transpired Maj. Blackburn (O.C. 19 Battalion) could only spare two companies for this attack.  In the event the attack did not reach its objectives and in the command confusion Col. Kippenberger was not aware of the 19 Battalion intended action in this area.  When he did learn of it he believed it too weak to be successful and sent orders to call it off.  At the end of the day (20th May) the Germans saw their positions as somewhat precarious and were nervous of a counter attack, which they expected.  It never came.
About one and a half miles west of Canea, on the coast road, was 7 British Hospital and NZ Field Ambulance, both of these also came under attack on the 20th May which obviously caused some controversy then and afterwards.  Although they were marked by red crosses the Germans seem to have believed them to be "tented camps", and so treated them as genuine targets.  The question of whether or not these were international infringements of the Geneva Convention was addressed in Davin's history, Appendix III.  The hospital fell in the area assigned to 3 Parachute Regiment under Col. Heidrich, with the assigned battalion (III) under Major Ludwig Heilmann having specific responsibility for the area in question.  All four of the companies in the battalion were assigned to capture the area.  It was Davin's view that it was unlikely that a force of this size would have been assigned, in the critical opening phase, if the Germans were aware of its hospital status.  However, the hospital was well marked with red crosses which would have been easily seen from the air.  One suggestion is that German Intelligence were showing another example of their poor work.  Intelligence prior to the attack had estimated Allied strength at only about one third of its actual strength, that being so a hospital apparently big enough for some 600 beds would have been much too large, so it could either be assumed not to be a hospital, or Intelligence would have needed to re-do their estimates of the island strength just prior to the attack.  After the attack on the 20th the hospital received no further attacks.
Suda Bay  15:00  20/5  (wo106/3241)

Capture of Maleme apparently the enemy's objective.  This has failed thus upsetting their plans.  Continuous enemy reconnaissance accompanied by sporadic bombing and machine gunning chiefly against A.A. defences.  Military hospital between CANEA & MALEME  was captured, now recaptured.  Fairly strong enemy party south of CANEA-MALEME road not yet mopped up.  Remaining parties reported accounted for.  HERAKLION bombed but no landing.  RETIMO not yet attacked.

21st May.

Throughout the day there was little change, although there was some localized fierce fighting and a small attack supported by 3 of Lt. Farran's tanks.  Colonel Heidrich with 3 Parachute Regiment had a expected a counter attack during the day and knew he would be in trouble if it came; it didn't.  One reason for this could be that Puttick was pre-occupied with planning for that night's counter attack on Maleme, and continuing concerns at the possibility of the invasion from the sea.

22nd May.

As with the 21st there was no real major change in this area.  Heidrich, with his 3rd Parachute Regiment wanted to try to push north towards the coastal road, if he were to be successful he would cut off 5 Brigade from 10 Brigade.  This was possibility was the main concern of Divisional HQ when they took the decision to withdraw 5 Brigade into reserve.  In the event on the 22nd Heidrich did not manage the thrust north and the day was one of constant small attacks by both sides, with no real change other than the withdrawal of 5 Brigade.

On 27 October 2006 the Daily Telegraph carried an obituary to Maj-Gen Michael Forrester who won two DSOs and two MCs, one of these on Crete.  Forrester was posted to the British Military Mission to Greece in 1941, but was then part of the evacuation to Crete where he became liaison officer to the units of the Greek army fighting under the command of the New Zealand Division.  The following is from the Telegraph; "On May 20 1941, when the German airborne invasion began, Forrester was staying in a cottage with Prince Peter of Greece and Patrick Leigh-Fermor.  He was ordered to report to HQ NZ Division, which directed him to Galatos, (sic) where the remnants of the 6th Greek Regiment had concentrated.

By May 22 the German attacks had reached a key hill near the village - its loss would have put at risk the whole position defended by the New Zealanders.  Forrester rallied some 200 Greek troops.  A tall, fair-haired man, he disdained to wear a helmet as he led a counter-attack which was joined by Cretan villagers, both men and women, all running and yelling and reacting to his whistled commands.

A New Zealand officer who witnessed the charge said later that it was the most thrilling moment of his life.  Forrester's dash and determination drove back the enemy and, for the moment, rescued a critical situation.  He was awarded an immediate bar to his MC."

Captain Forrester as he then was, was later evacuated from Crete.  His exploit is detailed in Davin, page 234.

With the withdrawal of the 5th Brigade on the 23rd May, Maleme was now well and truly in German hands.  General Ringel formed Group West and Group Center into one consolidated group, Ringel Group.  German fighter aircraft could now fly in to Maleme, this would allow them to fly their full sortie endurance over Crete, further compounding the problems for Freyberg's forces on the ground.  Ringel's initial plan after securing the airfield was to attack the Galatas Heights, pursue the defenders into Chania, then attack Suda Bay on the 26th.  He would use Ramcke's paratroop Group to press along the coast road towards 5 Brigade while Colonel Utz with a battalion of 85 Mountain Regiment would loop south of 5 Brigade.

Dispositions around Platanias and Stalos on 23rd May. 

[Picture from Davin's Official History]

I was contacted by Mike Moumoutjis who lives in the USA, both his parents are from the village of Galatas, and his grandfather was a fighter in the resistance.  Like many in the resistance, much of his time during the occupation was spent hiding from the Germans, but he was captured and sent to a Labour Camp in Germany.  His parents have since returned to Galatas to live, now that they are retired.

The Galatas Heights are only some 400 feet high.  They form an arc, or bow with Red Hill in the north some half mile from the coast road.  They then arc south east through Wheat Hill and Park Hill to Cemetery Hill.  Across the arc are Ruin Ridge, with Ruin Hill as the highest point, west of the arc.  5th Brigade, having withdrawn, was put in reserve and as no fresh troops were brought from the Suda Bay area Puttick intended defending against five German battalions with only two battalions of his own.  
23rd May.
The main activity in the Galatas area on the 23rd was associated with the withdrawal of 5 Brigade into reserve.  Puttick was aware that, during the day and before the withdrawal was complete, there was a gap between the rear of 5 Brigade and the right of 10 Brigade.  At this time Ramcke's group was pushing along the coast road [see map above], together with 100 Mountain regiment, while 85 Mountain Regiment were on their flanking move to the south.  Heidrich, with his 3 Parachute regiment, had dispatched Major Heilmann with a group of 150 officers and men north towards the village of Stalos, with the aim of cutting the coast road between the Allied 5th and 10th Brigades.  The main fighting in the 10th Brigade area was carried out by patrols aiming to drive the Germans out of Stalos.

Kippenberger was in command of the troops defending the Galatas sector, both 4th and 10th Brigades, and believed that he needed to reorganize to be able to meet the attacks he expected would come on the 24th.  So far the Composite Battalion had been holding the position on the western edge of 4 Brigade, but their make up is suggested by the name of the Battalion; they were a composite of available men from artillery and service units, they were not trained infantry.  Kippenberger wanted them, under cover of darkness, to reposition themselves on Ruin Ridge, north west of Galatas and behind 18 Battalion, who would take over their positions.  Unfortunately Lt. Col. Gray felt that his battalion frontage would be too long and he decided not to occupy Ruin Hill when it was vacated by the withdrawal of the Composite Battalion.  This would have consequences later.

Dispositions around Galatas, 24th May.  5th Brigade are now in rear of 4th Brigade.

[Picture from Davin's Official History]

24th May.
During the 23rd General Ringel made some changes in the German organization by promulgating an order that Groups West and Centre would now operate under himself as Group Ringel.  The Allied forces started the 24th in the positions shown in the map above, and as the NZ Official History tells it; "When daylight revealed it clearly to them, the defenders could not have relished the new situation.  Wheat Hill was partly overlooked by the undefended Ruin Hill, and Red Hill completely so."  Lt. Col. Gray's decision that left Ruin Hill undefended would be regretted.  Again from OH; "Morning on the brigade front was one of great tension and feverish preparation for what was expected to be a formidable onslaught and one that would soon come."  The day was one of waiting expectantly for an attack that was bound to be made by the German forces, it started at around 4 pm after artillery preparation by 95 Artillery Regiment around Platanias and Ay Marina.  Artillery had been a major part of the units flown into Maleme during the 23rd.
In fact there was little action on the 24th except that the Germans who now held Ruin Hill were able to put down fire on Red Hill and Lt. Col. Gray, who had left Ruin Hill unoccupied now realized that this error meant that he would also have to vacate Red Hill.  Both sides were now readying themselves for the attack that the Germans planned to launch on the 25th, and the defending forces expected to receive the following day